We tend to set resolutions that punish us for the things we did the previous year. For instance, because we supposedly ate too much or gained weight over the holidays, we decide we’re going on a diet, we’re cutting out sugar, and we’re eating “clean.” We decide we’re going to lose 15 pounds by some arbitrary date. Or we decide to work out five days a week—no exceptions, rain or shine or sickness. Or we decide we’re going to hustle and work 70 hours a week because we took too many breaks.
We set punishing resolutions because our self-esteem is conditional, said Lea Seigen Shinraku, a licensed marriage and family therapist offering depth-oriented, self-compassion-based therapy, as well as classes, workshops and groups focused on self-compassion.
Those conditions might be set when we compare ourselves to others or to a younger or idealized version of ourselves, she said. We think that we’ll be lovable and worthy when we lose weight or when we get a promotion or when we have X number of dollars in our bank account. And because these things are fleeting, we are forever chasing them. (Which is why we inevitably set the same resolutions every year.)
Those conditions also might be set by society. “We have come to accept that participating in the 50+ billion a year diet industry is something to do for health,” said Rebecca Scritchfield, a well-being coach, registered dietitian nutritionist and certified health and fitness specialist. It’s not. In fact, dieting is actually associated with eating disorders, depression and weight cycling, she said.
But you can do something different this year. You can take a different approach. You can set self-compassionate resolutions. Because as Seigen Shinraku said, self-compassion is essentially unconditional self-esteem. “It is an understanding that you are worthy of love and acceptance as you are right now; no matter how many wrinkles you have, how much you weigh or what your body composition may be. It is inherently stable: you don’t have to earn love or hustle for worthiness. You are deserving of it right now.”
Set resolutions based on your needs. “The fundamental question of self-compassion is: What do I need? or What is needed?” said Seigen Shinraku, the founder of The San Francisco Center for Self-Compassion. It’s not about trying to improve yourself; it’s about listening to yourself.
Seigen Shinraku shared these examples: You tend to automatically say “yes” to requests, whether you actually want to do them or not. So you decide to experiment with saying “no” more often. Or you’re feeling drained from your devices. So you decide to spend more time in nature by hiking once a month or visiting a local park once a week.
Reflect on 2017. Seigen Shinraku suggested exploring the successes and challenges of 2017. What did you love? What was hard? “Letting the previous year register in a conscious way can help clarify what matters to you and what you would like to give attention to in the new year,” she said.
Focus on self-expression. Again, instead of self-improvement, focus on what you’d like to express. For instance, according to Seigen Shinraku, “A self-expression resolution might be: ‘listen to my body and experiment with different forms of movement (maybe yoga, running, dance class) to find what feels good.’” It might be learning to paint or writing your memoir.
Pick a word of the year. This word will guide your 2018. Seigen Shinraku shared these examples: Enough, Listen, Presence, Aware, Explore. After you’ve picked your word, figure out how to keep it in your consciousness. For instance, you might write your word inside a card, which you keep on your desk, near your mirror or in your car, Seigen Shinraku said.
Then think of something you’d like to do each month that connects to your word. “For example, if your word is Explore, you might decide to visit a place that you haven’t been to before, to tap into your sense of curiosity and adventure.”
Turn your critic into a caregiver. Scritchfield suggested recording the disparaging thoughts that arise as you work on different changes. Then revise them from the perspective of a compassionate caregiver: What can I tell myself that’s actually encouraging and nurturing? How can I approach this from a supportive place?
Declutter. Make sure your environment supports your self-compassionate resolutions. For instance, declutter your home of diets. Toss anything in the trash that “reinforces ‘you suck unless you weigh less’ mindset,” said Scritchfield, author of the book Body Kindness. Then focus on your social media feeds and anything you read, she said. Unfollow anyone who makes you feel terrible about yourself and perpetuates the punitive, destructive thin-is-in, weight-loss-is-a-must belief system. (Scritchfield also has a free mini e-course on body kindness, which you can access at https://www.bodykindnessbook.com/get-started.)
Create a “resilience plan.” It’s inevitable that you will make mistakes, Scritchfield said. After all, you’re human. But often mistake-making is another area where we bash ourselves—which means it’s the perfect place to practice self-compassion. Scritchfield suggested considering: “What is your plan for when that happens? How will you practice self-forgiveness? Instead of judgments, ask yourself how you could learn and grow.”
Ultimately, when you’re creating next year’s resolutions, consider how you’d like to spend your days. Do you want to spend them berating yourself for breaking the latest diet? Do you want to spend them going to the gym when you actually hate the gym? Do you want to spend them chasing a specific number on the scale or a specific salary? Do you want to spend them scrolling through images of strangers who sink your self-worth? Or do you want to spend them taking compassionate care of yourself and prioritizing what’s actually important to you—like cultivating your creativity or cultivating a closer relationship with your partner or exploring breathtaking places.
The great thing is that you get to decide.